The Effects of Alcoholism on Comorbid Medical Conditions

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    Did you know that alcoholism kills more Americans each year than drug overdoses do?

    Alcohol consumption is normalized in our society. Sometimes, it is challenging to recognize when someone has a dangerous drinking problem. It can be even trickier to recognize when someone’s drinking is negatively interacting with other health issues they may have.

    Alcoholism commonly occurs alongside many comorbid medical conditions. These comorbid conditions make it harder to quit drinking and more dangerous to continue.

    Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to comorbid medical conditions and addiction to alcohol.

    Alcoholism and Comorbid Mental Health Conditions

    Alcoholism has high rates of psychiatric comorbidity. If you are dealing with alcoholism and a co-occurring mental illness, it’s vital that you receive a dual diagnosis.

    The dual diagnosis process helps ensure that you get treatment for both your mental health issues and your alcoholism. This is the only sure way to ensure you have the resources you need to stay sober.

    Let’s break down some of the psychiatric conditions that most commonly occur alongside alcoholism.

    Mood Disorders

    Mood disorders have the highest psychiatric comorbidity with alcohol. In the DSM, “mood disorders” refer to diagnoses like depression and bipolar disorder.

    Mood disorders are characterized by unpredictable and intense mood shifts. People who deal with mood disorders are likely to have trouble regulating their emotions.

    Alcohol can make you feel “numb,” which is why people with mood disorders often turn to it to soothe themselves.

    However, alcohol abuse worsens mood disorders and makes emotional regulation more difficult in the long run. You drink because you feel bad, and then you feel bad because you drink.

    People with bipolar disorder are at the highest risk of developing comorbid alcohol addictions. One of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is impulsive behavior, which makes people with this diagnosis prone to addiction of all kinds.

    Alcohol, however, is the most common substance abused by people with mood disorders. The social acceptance of alcohol makes it far easier to abuse than most illegal drugs.

    Anxiety Disorders

    Many people think of alcohol as a social aid. Drinking alcohol can make some people act more outgoing and bubbly.

    Alcohol can quickly become a dangerous crutch for people who struggle with anxiety. When socializing makes you uneasy, you may find yourself relying on alcohol to make you feel comfortable.

    People who spend time in the public eye are especially vulnerable to this. Celebrities, public figures, and performers may often find themselves drinking for “work.”

    When your lifestyle requires you to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, it can feel like you need alcohol to survive.

    This is certainly not the case. People who live with anxiety disorders simply require psychiatric treatment before they can kick their alcohol dependence.

    Eating Disorders

    Eating disorders are some of the most deadly psychiatric conditions. When an eating disorder is combined with alcoholism, that risk only increases.

    Most people with eating disorders compulsively monitor (and often restrict) how much food they consume. Alcoholics with eating disorders are prone to limiting calories in order to drink, a practice colloquially known as “drunkorexia.”

    This habit affects women more than men. This is largely due to cultural expectations that women will diet and remain thin.

    “Drunkorexia” is a very dangerous habit. When you binge drink with no food in your stomach, it makes you more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning.

    Over time, this habit can corrode your stomach lining and accelerate the liver damage that is already common with alcohol abuse.

    Sleep Disorders

    People who struggle with chronic insomnia are vulnerable to alcohol addiction because of alcohol’s side effects as a sleep aid.

    Sleep deprivation can seriously impair your decision-making and emotional regulation skills. After a long stretch of poor sleep, you may be willing to do anything if it helps you fall asleep.

    Abusing alcohol in this context can seem like a necessary evil. However, this habit is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

    Not only does alcohol addiction come with its own set of dangers, but self-medicating your sleep disorder can make the condition worse.

    The more reliant you are on self-medicating with alcohol, the harder it will be for you to fall asleep without it.

    In this case, your alcoholism and your sleep disorder will get worse in tandem. This leaves you with more problems to fix in the future.


    Experiencing a traumatic event can make you highly vulnerable to alcoholism.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause night terrors, flashbacks in which you relive your trauma, panic attacks, and racing anxious thoughts. Since alcohol is such an effective sedative, it’s all too easy to self-medicate PTSD by abusing it.

    People who had traumatic childhoods are more likely to develop alcoholism as adults than the general population. These people may experience intense daily anxiety without fully understanding why, leading to alcohol abuse.

    Long-term alcohol abuse ultimately makes it difficult to work through your trauma. When you shut yourself off from your feelings, it can be impossible to do the necessary emotional work to recover from PTSD.


    Grief used to be categorized as a psychiatric disorder — called “bereavement” in the DSM IV.

    Now, we categorize grief as one of the causes of a type of depression called “adjustment disorder.” Adjustment disorder is a temporary depression caused by an unexpected and upsetting life event.

    Regardless of how categories may change, clinicians have long agreed that grief is a complex psychiatric condition.

    When you suddenly find yourself grieving, it can feel impossible to know how to handle your feelings. That is where alcohol abuse comes in.

    Much like trauma, abusing alcohol to cope with grief will make it even harder to sort through your feelings eventually. As painful as it may be, allowing yourself to grieve in a sober setting is the only way to move forward from loss truly.

    Alcoholism and Other Comorbid Addictions

    Alcoholism is closely tied with other types of substance abuse. People who abuse one substance are more likely to abuse others.
    Let’s discuss the link between alcoholism and the three most common comorbid substance addictions.


    Opioid Drugs and Other Sedatives

    People with alcohol addictions are often more likely to abuse other sedatives. This is often due to comorbid psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, making nervous system depressant drugs highly appealing.

    Alcoholism and opioid addiction are one of the most dangerous comorbidities in existence. Mixing opioids and alcohol can be lethal.

    Alcohol and other sedative drugs lower your blood pressure and heart rate. An overdose of alcohol and sedatives can easily cause your central nervous system to become so inactive that you approach death.

    Being drunk also makes it difficult to monitor your dosage of other drugs. You are more likely to take sedatives at dangerously high doses if your inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol intoxication.

    Abusing alcohol and other sedatives will cause your tolerance to rising rapidly. The higher your patience is, the more likely you will try dangerous opioid drugs.

    These drugs include morphine and heroin, which have extremely high fatality rates.

    Stimulant Drugs

    In some social circles, comorbid alcohol and stimulant abuse is glamorized.

    For example, in the entertainment industry, it is common to use cocaine and alcohol throughout the same night.

    Food service workers have high rates of both alcohol and stimulant abuse. These stimulants include both cocaine and prescription stimulants such as Adderall.

    Abusing alcohol and stimulants concurrently is dangerous because they can seem to “cancel each other out.”

    When you’re drunk and take cocaine, for example, you may feel more alert. You may also feel like you’re suddenly able to drink more.

    This false sense of security increases your risk of alcohol poisoning and stimulant overdose. Mixing “uppers” and “downers” can also cause heart problems in the long run.

    Behavioral Addictions

    Alcoholism is very often comorbid with behavioral addictions. The two most commonly recognized behavioral addictions are gambling addiction and sex addiction.

    Alcohol is a huge part of some gambling subcultures. People who spend a lot of time in casinos are likely to drink in excess because it will be advertised to them at every turn.

    People who struggle with sex addiction are often likely to abuse alcohol.

    Lowering their inhibitions can make it easier to engage in casual sex. Excessive drinking is also common behavior in bars where someone might pick up strangers for sex.

    In general, alcohol encourages any other impulsive behavior. These comorbid conditions can feed into each other and promote a cycle of unhealthy behavior.

    Alcoholism and Physical Health Issues

    Long-term alcoholism is often comorbid with physical health issues. Alcoholism may directly contribute to these health issues, or it may result from the struggle to cope with them.

    Are you struggling with alcoholism and physical health issues? You should find a rehab facility that specializes in incidental medical services.

    Here are a few physical health issues that often co-exist with alcohol abuse.

    Chronic Pain

    Chronic pain can be devasting when it is not appropriately managed. It is easy to let chronic pain make you feel hopeless and turn to alcohol to escape those feelings.

    Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it can also provide physical relief from pain by dulling your senses.

    Alcohol abuse also weakens your body’s ability to heal, so it can have devastating effects on chronic pain in the long run. The best way to treat comorbid alcoholism and chronic pain is to ensure someone has access to proper pain management care.

    Liver Damage

    Liver damage is one of the most well-known side effects of alcoholism. It is common for lifelong alcoholics to suffer from liver failure.

    If you are suffering from liver damage due to alcoholism, it is vital to go through alcohol detox as soon as possible. Once it begins, liver damage can progress very quickly and fatal.

    Furthermore, past a certain point in the disease’s progression, the only thing you can do is get a liver transplant.
    Waiting lists for organ transplants can be quite long. People with alcoholism can sometimes be denied priority on these lists due to being categorized as “high risk.”

    When you start to develop serious health problems due to alcoholism, it can sometimes drive you to drink even more. It can be easy to fall into defeatist attitudes about your addiction in situations like these.

    The best rehab facilities always address both physical health problems and alcoholism.

    Heart Disease

    Alcoholism can lead to heart problems in the long run, especially for men. Men are already more prone to heart disease and high blood pressure, and alcoholism increases your risk of both.
    Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy.

    Cardiomyopathy is a condition that results from the weakening of the heart muscle.

    Alcoholism can also contribute to obesity, another risk factor for heart disease and high blood pressure.

    Abusing alcohol alongside other drugs, as we mentioned previously, is likely to raise your risk of comorbid heart disease.

    Understand Alcoholism and Comorbid Medical Conditions

    We hope you’ve found this guide to alcoholism and comorbid medical conditions helpful. Understanding the link between comorbidity and alcohol may help keep you safe.

    If you or someone you know is dealing with alcoholism, reach out for professional help as sooner as you can. It’s never a wrong time to make a change.

    Contact us for more information about our detox and rehabilitation services, insurance verification, and more.